young obese woman rumpling hair with closed eyes in white studio

I’m calling about my mom

God knows you’ve tried.

You’ve coaxed, you’ve wheedled, you’ve threatened and yes, you’ve yelled.

All for what? The clutter is still everywhere. Nothing has changed.

You’re worried about her safety and you’re terrified that you’re going to have to clear out her stuff when she’s gone.

Bringing in the professionals seems like the logical next step

But hiring an organizer is an expensive and frustrating waste of time for everyone involved if everyone doesn’t agree there’s a problem.

As long as you’re complaining, and hinting and exploding, your mom thinks you’re the problem. If you would just leave her alone, things would be fine

The more you insist, the more she’s duty bound to resist

It’s like telling your two-year-old it’s time to stop playing in the sandbox. Or your five-year-old they have to go to bed. Or your teenager they need to stop hanging out with the friends you don’t think are good for them.

They fight for the exact opposite, and everyone gets locked into a war that doesn’t end, even if you win a battle here and there.

Your mom’s house suits her just fine. Otherwise, she’d be the one calling me.

If you force her to hire an organizer, be prepared for resistance

She’ll cancel appointments and reschedule, always for water-tight reasons that wouldn’t be a factor if she wanted the organizer there.

A problem is only a problem when it’s bothering you, and if the only reason the clutter’s bothering your relative is because it’s making you nag them, working with a professional organizer will take a predictable course.

You’ll get frustrated because you’re just trying to help.

The organizer will get frustrated because they can’t fill a spot after a last minute cancellation.

Your mom will get frustrated because no one is picking up on her hints that she’s not up for this.

So please, if you’re calling an organizer because someone else’s clutter is driving you crazy, hang up the phone right now.

Don’t even dial.

Take a step back and think about how much money you’re going to spend for nothing and how much further South the already frayed relationship with your mom is going to go.

Put the money you would have spent on organizing to better use

Therapy, trips to the mountains, lovely things that you enjoy doing.

Stop cleaning up after her. Set clear boundaries about what clutter she can bring into your space and enforce those boundaries.

Don’t bail her out when the natural consequences of her clutter come up. Can’t find her covid-19 immunization card? Oh dear. Guess she can’t go to that concert after all.

READ MORE >>> Living with a packrat

You can’t force someone else to get organized

Work around this problem as much as you’re willing to until resentment boils over, and then instead of calling an organizer, call a therapist. You and mom have some negotiating to do.

Keep the relationship and let the wonderful day come when mom announces she’s sick and tired of the mess. It may never come, but it’ll come sooner if you don’t nag.

Let her do the research and call the organizers herself. Don’t offer to help or do the research for her because it’ll only set things back another six to eighteen months. Anyone you preselect comes loaded with the baggage that you’re suggesting them.

Your mom knows how Google works

Mom may seem technologically challenged but she knows how Google works. Show her again if you want to, but if she can answer a cell phone, she can find Google too.

Let her search until she finds someone who resonates.

Let her set up the interview and let her decide who she wants to work with.

I know, you deserve input too. But we want this to work, right? When someone feels in control of a situation, it frees them to look at what might not be working so well and take action.

When you let go of the rope, your mom can stop pulling it away from you.

by Lucy Kelly


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18 comments

  1. Ditto to all of the above. Even if it’s not a gift certificate, if the wife (usually) is calling because her husband (usually) wants her to get organized, it’s often the tip of the iceberg in terms of their marital problems. I’ve had a couple of long-term client situations like this that turned out well, but others, not so much. And, speaking of, “You can’t force someone else to get organized,” if the wife (usually) wants the husband (or mom, or friend) to get organized too, I advise them to focus on themselves and set an example. Sometimes their improved space and happiness rubs off onto others!

  2. Sometimes your mother’s clutter threshold is higher than yours. Definitely a good idea to back off. And there could be a lot of reasons for her cluttering, some which she might not be ready to address. Spend time with her doing things she enjoys, and if she feels her clutter is a problem she wants help with, she’ll reach out.

  3. I learned this the hard way as an organizer. I’ve made the mistake of trying to work for someone to organize someone else’s home, and it. does. not. work. As you said, hiring an organizer is a “waste of time for everyone involved if everyone doesn’t agree there’s a problem.” It only leads to a rift between family members and more frustration for everyone. Excellent advice.

  4. There’s so much truth here. When I started my business, I happily listed that gift certificates for services were available, but I soon learned that I needed to spend time dissuading people from buying gift certificates for organizing services for their loved ones (and especially for their spouses, daughters-in-law, and mothers) because the individual needs to desire the process or the whole thing falls apart.

  5. They totally have to want it or it won’t work. I had a client hire me to do her office, which she shared with her husband. The day I arrived, the husband started grabbing all his stuff and telling me, “Don’t touch my stuff.” So, of course, I just did her half of the office.

    This is much harder when it is your mother or other loved one, as we feel the burden of improving the situation. Nevertheless, if your Mom is going to cancel and be difficult, it just won’t end up well. Excellent post!

    1. Thanks, Seana! I tell people upfront that we’ll only be working with their stuff – we make a separate area for all the things we come across that belong to someone else and we don’t make any decisions about that area.

  6. I had to turn these requests away. I had a person call me about organizing a garage. She warned me that the in-laws might be there and they did not think it was necessary. On the day of the session, the in laws were there and they didn’t want it, even though it was her garage. The In laws were there saying, why are we doing this, it is not necessary. It was very stressful for me and my client.

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